Object: Painting by Edmond Delrenne
National Gallery of Ireland
Object title: The Ruins of O’Connell Street, 1916 by Edmond Delrenne
Physical Description: Charcoal and watercolour with white highlights on paper. 17.1 x 26 cm
Background: This watercolour was produced by Belgian artist Edmond Delrenne. Very little is known of Delrenne other than he was a refugee of the First World War and arrived in Dublin in about 1914. Whilst in Dublin he gave his address as care of Dermod O’Brien, then newly-elected president of the Royal Hibernian Acadmey and future director of the National Gallery. His artwork was well received as he exhibited at the RHA consecutively in 1915 and 1916. O’Brien seemingly took a liking to his work as Delrenne’s watercolour painted in the immediate aftermath of the 1916 rising, The Ruins of O'Connell Street, Dublin, was amongst his estate and presented to the NGI by his son, Dr Brendan O'Brien. This rare contemporaneous painting of the destruction of Dublin is doubly unique given Delrenne’s own personal experiences of war on the continent. There is a story told by O’Brien of the artist in Dublin at the time of Easter Rising of how, when standing in a doorway, a man beside him was killed by a stray bullet. The few known artworks of Delrenne’s in Ireland are depictions of the capital after the Rising. He seemingly stayed with O’Brien at his other residence in Limerick for a period after 1916, though his later career remains shrouded in mystery.
Delrenne’s watercolour of The Ruins of O’Connell Street, is a carefully composed study of the destructive aftermath of the Easter Rising in Ireland’s capital. The GPO still stands in the distance with its façade intact though it is a bare shell of what it used to be. Piles of rubble take up the foreground capturing the immediate brutal devastation caused by the British gun boat Helga, which sailed up the River Liffey and tore down buildings on the waterfront. Delrenne uses a muted palette in order to evoke the solemnity of the scene. The two objects still standing, the GPO and Nelson’s Pillar, are rendered in an austere grey colour perhaps reminding the viewer of their British origins, though an Irish tricolour a top the GPO anticipates the transformation of the building into a nationalist symbol. There is a subtle sympathy to Delrenne’s watercolour that belies his own experiences fleeing the First World War on the continent; he lays bare the trauma of war and seeks to document a time of chaos.
Paintings/drawings of this kind that were produced on-site documenting the Rising are extremely rare and this one was produced by a non-Irish national who had fled one war only to stumble upon another.